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Wireless headset mics

Discussion in 'Recording' started by JakeEagle, Jul 25, 2012.

  1. JakeEagle

    JakeEagle Guest

    "We need a couple of affordable but reliable headset wireless mics. Range isn't important but we don't want something that will break down or fail or get in the way of our conferences."
  2. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Moderator Resource Member

    Dec 18, 2008
    Western Pennsylvania, USA
    Hi, I might have some suggestions, but I'm going to need a little more input.
    Here are some things you need to consider:

    What's your idea of affordable?

    What is the intended use of these headset mics? (seeing the word 'conferences', can we assume just spoken word? / or vocal performance too?)

    Will there be a lot of competing background noise?

    Is your primary goal live sound reinforcement, or recording the voices, both?

    Do you have your own sound system for these conferences, or do you hook up to someone else's system?

    Will it be the same people wearing the headsets all the time, or a variety of users?

    How discrete (invisible) do they need to be?

    Are you in a major city? rural? suburban?

    Is it always in the same venue, or portable to multiple locations/cities?
  3. Unregistered

    Unregistered Guest

    I appreciate your clarifying questions:

    My wife and I conduct seminars for groups of 20-25 people. The two of us do most of the talking, but people in the audience ask questions from time to time. We would like to capture the questions and our answers. The course we teach includes about 20 hours of Q&A over several days. We usually work in rural setting (around the world) with varying degrees of background noise. When we are in a noisy location we would like to be able to project our voices through a speaker, but generally we prefer not to do this because we are trying to create an intimate environment. We would prefer for the mics we use to be visually discrete and comfortable.

    I was told that we should buy Shure wireless dual mics, with one additional wireless mic for the audience—that could be passed around. It was also suggested that we get a Behringer mixer. I happen to own a Zoom H2, so we were thinking of using that as the recording device. Not including the Zoom this would be about $1000. That's a lot of money for us to spend, but if it's necessary to get good sound quality, we'd do it. I was told that inexpensive wireless mics are unreliable and a mistake, but I know nothing about this.

    Thanks for offering your assistance.

  4. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Sep 26, 2005
    Audio Technica makes some affordable head mounted microphones. Couple those with some SHURE wireless units and you will have both an affordable and reliable system.

    When it comes to wireless devices, you want receivers that have 2 antennas known as " diversity " receivers. With only a single antenna, you will get multipath dropout. With diversity, you generally won't. One of the other things which his mistakes most people make with wireless systems is they stick the wireless receiver in the rear of the room with the rest of the audio system. Most ideally regardless of what the range indication is, you want the receivers as close to the wireless transmitters as possible. Then the balanced outputs from the wireless receivers can be sent many hundreds of feet back to the system at the rear of the room. Putting a receivers at the back of the room is just plain stupid. I don't care if the wireless system indicates its reception is good up to 300 feet. Don't believe that for a moment. There is far too much RF (radio frequency) going on all around us today more so than ever in even the recent past. And be careful about purchasing any used UHF wireless systems. New FCC laws make many of those frequencies on systems sold just a couple of years ago illegal and unusable. Many of these systems cannot be modified to be utilized in the new " white space " spectrum. A lot of wireless systems also require the use of some sophisticated software in conjunction with a receiver to determine what frequencies in your area that can be effectively used without interference. Since the whitespace mandate has been put into effect, putting together a wireless system is nowhere near as easy as it used to be. So this is just a word of caution. What seems to be a bargain and works may not work the next time due to improper frequency allocations and choices. Investigate this carefully before proceeding.

    AZDEN also makes some very affordable and FCC legal whitespace based wireless devices. Though I don't think you'll find that they offer any headset oriented microphones? So if you go after the headset microphones from Audio Technica, you won't need them to have XLR outputs. They offer units designed to be coupled with wireless transmitter packs. Then again, you can get the ones that have XLR outputs. Most wireless systems now offer transmitter packs that feature both XLR inputs and phantom power. So they can be utilized with a hand-held microphone or plugged into a wireless headset with an XLR output. A little more bulky to use however that way. But it expands the versatility of wireless system. Back in the days when we just utilized wireless transmitter belt packs, an auxiliary adapter cord was an easy device to make it, terminated in a female XLR. But those didn't necessarily offer the proper phantom power source that most condenser microphones require that don't take batteries. And all those headset microphones are condenser microphones. The ones designed to go right into wireless transmitters do not utilize phantom power but rather a separate DC power source is provided for them. So don't get that confused with your purchase. That's why there are transmitter packs that feature XLR connectors and phantom power. Standard belt pack transmitters also utilize three connections. But those three connections are ground, unbalanced audio and one for power. And that's not how phantom power is distributed. Phantom power is distributed on the same balanced microphone lines that carries the audio. That's why it's called Phantom. The power is carried on the audio lines as a phantom source.

    I'm trying to be as unclear about this as possible LOL
    Mx. Remy Ann David (I hear the Chinese trough calling to me in the distance... DINNERTIME)
  5. jakeeagle

    jakeeagle Guest

    Wireless mics

    DVDHAWK...please let me know your thoughts.

  6. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Moderator Resource Member

    Dec 18, 2008
    Western Pennsylvania, USA
    Sorry Jake, I was working out of town for the last few days and missed your reply.

    I would take that other advice with a big old block of salt - and here's the book on why...

    I would agree that ideally you would have two headsets for you and your wife, plus another handheld (or two) to capture the questions from your conference participants. But, I don't see how a dual system really saves you any money. You have to be careful with the 'dual' or 'combo' systems some manufacturers sell. Often they are not dual-diversity receivers, which as Remy points out, should be a deal breaker. The cheap 'dual combo' may look like a dual-diversity receiver because it has two antennas. But in many of them, that translates to two cheap receivers with one antenna per receiver - which will rarely provide reliable signal if you're moving around at any distance more than a few feet from the receiver. Also many of the 'dual mic' systems I see that come with a mic combo including a handheld and lavalier, limit you to using one or the other. In other words, some of the combos you'll see include two transmitter styles to choose from (handheld or lapel mic) so you can pick whichever best suits your needs that day. But in many of the combo systems, both mics CANNOT be used simultaneously. So, read the literature carefully so you don't fall into either of those traps. **Also see #1 below.

    I also agree that most wireless systems below a certain price-range are more trouble than they are worth. That said however, the major expense of a good wireless headset system is often the headworn mic itself. I've gone on service calls to churches where they were enticed into buying a cheap headset system from ebay, or a specialty church audio catalog. The dirt-cheap headset system consisted of a cheap single receiver and a big hideous headset that looked and sounded more like it was surplus or salvaged from a WWII prop-plane. They can't figure out why their pastor sounds like he's being broadcast on an AM transistor pocket radio. It can be adjusted to minimize the cheap sound, but will never sound good. You really do get what you pay for with wireless.

    If you're shooting for a professional presentation and reliability factor and the rough numbers, I would estimate you have to be in the $400-$600 range per wireless system PLUS $250-$400 per headset to get anything worth having. It would be very typical to spend $800 for a good wireless headset system. If I were going to cut corners anywhere, due to budget concerns, it might be the handheld for the audience members. And even still, I wouldn't cut it much. A decent handheld is going to be $400 or more, where a good one will be more in the $550 -$800 and up range.

    The FOUR big problems I see with econo wireless mics are:
    1) ** And this is EXTREMELY important given your application ** Fixed/limited frequencies. If you're planning to take these wireless systems around the world, you'll obviously need to deal with the different electrical standards from country-to-country. But in addition to that, you will be subject to completely different broadcasting standards, rules, regulations. You will need a fairly good wireless system to be "Frequency-Agile" which is the technical jargon for the ability to tune it to a very wide range of frequencies. Cheaper wireless systems are either locked into 1 frequency, or may offer several channels to choose from. For your stated purpose of international use, you will need one capable of hundreds/thousands of frequencies, because you can't be locked into a frequency that may work great at home, but find it picks up / or broadcasts on, an illegal or incompatible part of the spectrum as you travel. The better manufacturers can cope with both the appropriate power supply and frequency for world-wide travel. Check the included accessories and you might find the unit that is slightly more expensive might save you money in the long run. For example, the wall-wart power supply that comes with Sennheiser systems includes plugs compatible with a variety of international electrical standards. Most other companies just include the power supply relevant to the region in which you buy it. So when you plan for the electric conversion, you can factor that in - and not be surprised later by a hidden expense.

    2) Low transmitting power (we don't put too much stock in the specs, BUT) anything below 30mW output in the specs is bad news, 50mW is exceptional (and the legal FCC limit if you're in the US). And make sure you're looking at the spec sheet, not the FCC warning as shown FYI on all Shure wireless pages.

    3) They're usually not dual-diversity receivers, as we've said before dual-diversity technology greatly improves signal reliability as the receiver constantly chooses whichever antenna is providing the better/stronger signal.

    4) Terrible handling noise in handhelds. The cheaper wireless handhelds tend to have little or no shock-mount inside to prevent noise and vibration from getting into the capsule. This manifests itself in the form of rumbling and rustling noises as the person clutches the mic or moves the mic in their hand. That's a problem with most singers, and a really big problem in a situation where you might pass the mic around the crowd from person to person for questions.

    I've installed bunches of wireless headsets, made by numerous manufacturers including AKG, Audio-Technica, Countryman, Sennheiser, Shure . Typically I would sell my church & school clients a guitar/instrument system, because they save the expense of lavalier mic that will end up collecting dust. Then we would add the compatible headset mic of their choice. If they're buying multiple systems, I would normally order one of the systems with a lav, so they have it as a back-up - or incase they have a speaker who is uncomfortable wearing a headset mic. In either case, I lose selling the extra lavs, and they save money - which is OK with me.

    You'll find there are some headset mics that are a lot more aesthetically pleasing than others. If you're a rock drummer or aerobics instructor a bigger cardiod capsule with a 1" diameter windscreen all the way in front of your mouth might be OK. For church or conference use, I'd go with something that is practically invisible. If you're in an environment without a lot of background noise an omni-directional capsule positioned anywhere between your ear and the corner of your mouth will sound good without having to worry about breathing into it, or 'plosives from popping your P's.

    I generally like to do an on-site demo and let them try a couple different headworn mic designs. I would especially like them to compare an "earset" design like the Countryman e6i (which fits over one ear) to something like the "headset" design of an AKG HC577 (which has a wraparound design to sit on both ears). They both sound great, and can be comfortable for long periods of time, and can be oriented to either their left or right side, so it's a matter of comfort and personal preference. The Countryman capsule is extremely tiny and very discrete, but can take some time and trial and error to find a shape that keeps the mic where you want it. You have to bend the silicone part to conform snugly to your ear, and then it's best to use the included tie-tack to clip the cable to your collar to keep the cable from tugging at the headset. If you don't use the cable clip, you might end up with the mic going vertical after a few tugs. In comparison the AKG capsule is just slightly larger in diameter (still nearly invisible from 15ft away), but it's extremely easy to adjust position and have it stay there. I have customers who passionately love each of the two designs and despise the other. I would suggest you try both before you buy, if that's possible where you live. If forced to take a shot in the dark, I would recommend the headset format. Most of my customers are churches and schools where the headset has to go on a different person every week, or sometimes from one act to the next while the emcee is introducing them. The headset design eliminates almost all of the adjustment variables for me.

    If you're comfortable with the Zoom as your recording medium, I would say, 'go for it'. I can't see any reason that should be a limiting factor.

    As for the B-word mixer, I would use it to chock the tires on my trailer and buy a comparable Allen-Heath, Mackie, or Soundcraft mixer. The net cost won't really be much higher, but the sound-quality will be noticeably better. Again, something with international power would be a bonus.

    If you're not in a position to monitor the recording during the Q & A with the audience, I would probably recommend a compressor/limiter connected to the mixer as well, to help level out the inconsistent volumes of those who will be asking questions. I usually see this go down in a number of ways. A) The "I've got a big mouth and don't need a mic" guy, who usually has a big voice and won't hold a mic anyway - not realizing it's for the purpose of recording or to benefit those behind him. B) The person with a normal speaking volume, but holds the mic about navel high, or at arm's length as if it were a venomous snake. C) The person who is so soft-spoken even with a microphone they are difficult to hear. D) And every once in a great while, you'll come across someone who knows how to use a microphone and will speak with enough confidence and volume to give you good recording levels.

    Feel free to take all that with a big old grain of salt too, but hopefully between Remy and myself we've given you something to think about beyond the superficial quick-fix advice - so you can make an informed decision, avoid the common pitfalls, and make a wise purchase.

    Best of luck!!
  7. Boswell

    Boswell Distinguished Moderator Resource Member

    Apr 19, 2006
    Home Page:
    Great practical advice from the Hawk there. The only couple of things I would add is that I don't think any of the major radio mic manufacturers offer a radio system that is legal to use absolutely everywhere in the world, so it may be a matter of making a list of the countries you are likely to visit and checking your short-list of mics against the known licence-free frequencies for that country. Make sure the lists you use are up-to-date, as several changes happened or are due to happen in 2012. If you happen to go somewhere that only has legal frequencies not on the list or (worse) no licence-free frequencies, you may have to require your venue hosts for that location to supply a wireless system locally.

    The other thing that may be worth considering for conferencing is a Shure Auto-mixer. This is a box that selects only the loudest audio from a selection of mic inputs and routes that to the PA or recording output. It allows higher levels of gain from any one mic than would be possible with all mics active at any one time. I have the SCM810 in my hire stock, but the 4-channel version SCM410 is the sort of thing that would work well for you. It would save having to get the trailer chock that Hawk mentioned.
  8. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Moderator Resource Member

    Dec 18, 2008
    Western Pennsylvania, USA
    Jake, Sir Boswell (if he hasn't been knighted yet, it's just a matter of time) is another gentleman who will give thoughtful advice you can take without any salt.

    Excellent insight as always Boswell. I like the idea of the Auto-mixer and renting / hiring a system overseas is always worthy of consideration after you tally up the cost of transporting your own system, the necessary electrical converters, time researching and programming frequencies, and the level of stress that may or may not cause.

    Some of the better systems will scan the environment they're in and find the best frequency, but that doesn't mean it's going to clear all day, or legal for you to transmit on that frequency.

    The main reason I wanted to check back in was to add one more thing. Don't buy a used wireless system from eBay thinking you're getting a bargain - without doing your homework first. A lot of the 'incredible deals' on used wireless systems are systems that are not only broken or obsolete - but now illegal in certain countries. Much like the FCC in the US banned wireless mics in the 700MHz range a couple years ago to expand other wireless communications and transition to Digital TV broadcast.... the WRC is now poised to make a similar move by the end of 2012 that will affect numerous countries over several continents.

    Overview here: "New Frequency Plan in Europe" from the fine folks at AKG.

    As one more caveat, mic manufacturers are getting hit hard with counterfeit products on eBay - so there's that to consider too.
  9. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Sep 26, 2005
    See? Professionals like myself, the Hawk & Boswell won't lead you astray. It's dicey times in the wireless industry today with everybody vying for practical, working RF spaces. And probably the reason why we will see the discontinuation of over the air broadcast television in the not-too-distant future. It will still be over the air but only over the air through wireless devices. It's already here now and expanding by the day all over the world. 6.5 MHz of bandwidth for a single TV channel is becoming wholly and financially impractical. Not to mention the excessive amount of power needed for a single point transmitter. So it's also a move into a greener environment with a lower carbon footprint. Much in the same way as my earlier PA system designs utilized a series of strategically placed multiple speakers than just a couple of huge stacks to the left and right of the stage. Lower power was utilized with these multiple distributed speakers along with the proper time delays so as to create multiple sweet spots over a broader region along with the ability to create the directive that the sound was actually coming from the stage. In this sense, an analog cellular PA system where everybody got control room like sound wherever they sat. Which is what I did over 19 years ago. So some of us are visionaries that have the ability to see the future and to hear the future.

    I think I hear my bank account telling me it's time to retire? Yeah, in my next lifetime LOL.
    Mx. Remy Ann David

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